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Abortion access

Why do women seek abortions?

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Why women want to have an abortion:

About 43% of American women will have one (or occasionally more) abortions during their lifetime. Women's centers and hospitals perform more than a million abortions per year. Abortions are obviously in great demand. But why?

Women have many reasons for not wanting to be pregnant, and thus to seek an abortion. Many are related to:

bullet Age: Most abortions are done on women under the age of 25.
bullet Marital status: Most women seeking abortions are unmarried; many other are separated from their spouse.
bullet Economic status: Many are poor and feel that they cannot afford to raise a child.

In a study by Torres and Forrest (1998) -- based on 1987 data -- women gave an average of 3.7 reasons for wanting an abortion: 1,2

bullet The vast majority (in excess of 90%) of abortions are sought for personal reasons:
bullet 21% feel that they do not have the financial resources to bring up a child.
bullet 21% feel that they are not ready for the responsibility of raising a child.
bullet 16% feel that their life would be changed too much. She might have a plan for her future (education, developing a career, etc.) that does not allow for having a child at the present time. She might be looking after an elderly parent and does not have sufficient time or energy to commit to a baby.
bullet 12% feel that her relationship with her partner is in difficulty.
bullet 11% feel that they are too young, and not sufficiently mature to become a mother.
bullet In 8% of the cases, her children are grown and she does not want to start another family, or she has all the children that she wants.
bullet Some of these reasons may be influenced by:
bullet Pressure from the father or from her parents to have an abortion.
bullet She feels that she lacks the emotional and physical strength to go through another pregnancy and raise the child.
bullet She believes that raising an additional child would short-change her existing children.
bullet She is a student and/or without a partner; she feels that raising a child would be too difficult and disruptive at her time in life.
bullet She doesn't want other people to know that she became pregnant.
bullet A child would interfere with her career or education.
bullet She may fear physical abuse from a parent if they learn of her pregnancy.
bullet She may fear being tossed out onto the street by a parent if they learn of her pregnancy.
bullet In the case of a multiple pregnancy, the woman may be faced with giving birth to more newborns than she feels she can deal with.
bullet About 6% of all abortions are sought because either the woman or fetus has medical reasons:
bullet The fetus might have been hurt by exposure to high levels of toxic chemicals, medications that might be dangerous to the fetus, alcohol, drugs, etc. They may cause the fetus to be genetically damaged.
bullet Some girls become pregnant at a very young age, when pregnancy can be dangerous.
bullet The fetus has a genetic defect or other health problem. Almost all of the couples who find that the fetus suffers from Down's Syndrome, or a similar defect, elect to have an abortion.
bullet The woman may develop eclampsia. This involves a sudden increase in blood pressure, and onset of seizures. The results can be fatal to both the woman and fetus.  This used to be called toxemia of pregnancy.
bullet In the case of a multiple pregnancy -- quintuplets, sextuplets, etc. -- some or all of the fetuses will end up with various long-term health problems; some may not survive at all. Physicians will sometimes recommend a selective reduction process where one or more fetuses are killed in order that the remaining fetuses would be born normal.
bullet About 1% of all abortions are sought because of abusive sexual act:
bullet About ten to fifteen thousand abortions (approximately 1%) annually are sought because the conception occurred after rape or during an incestuous relationship, and the woman does not want to bear a child who was conceived in violence. 2

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Why women decide to have an abortion late in pregnancy:

In 2001, About 59% of abortions were performed before the 9th week of gestation; A further 19% are performed during the 9th or 10th week. A further 20% were performed between 11 and 20 weeks inclusive. These data show a gradual shift towards more abortions being performed earlier in gestation.

In 1987. women who have later-term abortions -- 16 weeks or more since last menstrual period -- give a variety of reasons for their decision. This appears to be the most recent data available. It was republished in a report by Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) & The Guttmacher Institute (AGI) in 2005, Women gave an average of 2.2 reasons for a late-term abortion:

bullet 71% did not recognize that she was pregnant.
bullet 48% had difficulty arranging for an abortion; it took time to raise the money; they had to first get a Medicaid card; they couldn't arrange transportation, etc.
bullet 33% were afraid to tell parents or partner of the pregnancy.
bullet 24% needed time to make a decision.
bullet 8% hoped that a bad relationship would change.
bullet 8% felt pressure to not have an abortion.
bullet 6% had some major change during the pregnancy.
bullet 6% did not know that timing was important.
bullet 5% did not know that she could get an abortion.
bullet 2% found out late in pregnancy that the fetus had an abnormality.
bullet 11% gave other reasons. 3

At least some of the 11% who gave other reasons may well have have delayed revealing their pregnancies until later, so that friends and family would not try to convince her to not have an abortion.

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Why women decide to have an abortion very late in pregnancy:

Only 1.4% of abortions are done after 20 weeks. In 1997, only about 0.08% of abortions were performed after 24 weeks, at a time when the fetus may be viable. 2

There has been a great deal of controversy about the use of intact D&X abortions, commonly called partial birth abortions, in which the fetus is partly delivered feet-first, an opening is made in the back of its skull, its brains are removed by suction, its head collapses, and its body is removed, dead, from the woman. Pro-life information sources tend to go into great detail about the details of the procedure. We have never seen a pro-life information source describe why D&X procedures are done.

Very few abortions after 20 weeks are elective; almost all are done for medical reasons. All or essentially all medial associations in U.S. states and Canadian provinces have a gestational time limit beyond which elective abortions cannot be performed. This is typically 20 or 21 weeks. The individual associations have different rules. However, in most areas of North America, medical associations allow D&X procedures only if there is a very severe and serious threat to the woman's health, or a threat to the woman's life, or when the fetus is very severely malformed. More information

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  1. "Abortion FAQ," Planned Parenthood of Central and Northern Arizona, at:
  2. "An Overview of Abortion in the United States," Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) & The Guttmacher Institute (AGI), 2005-JUN, Page 10, at: You need software to read these files. It can be obtained free from: Information came from a report by Torres and Forrest (1988) and is based on 1987 data.
  3. Ibid, Page 13.

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Copyright 2002 to 2007 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2007-APR-23
Author: B.A. Robinson

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